– from Jeannie (Hartt) Nielsen (daughter of Ed Hartt, Senior Keeper on Langara 1957 – 1963)
Growing up on a total of five different west coast lighthouses I remember certain things that were common to them all. The best day was always supply day (see also the Groceries & Mail Categories). When we were on Langara lighthouse in the early years (1957 – 1963) we received supplies every three months. I can remember the first thing I listened for in the early morning of landing day was the clicking sound of the damper in the chimney of the kitchen’s oil stove. When I heard that I knew that there would be no supplies landed that day as the wind was too high.
One December I heard that dreaded sound twenty (20) days in a row, and each day the ship tried to bring our groceries. We would watch as it would come into view just off Langara Rocks. They would assess the landing conditions, then we would watch with growing dispair as it turned back to the safety of a nearby harbour. Finally on the 21st day, the supply tender (itself running out of provisions) was able to deliver our supplies.
It was a day of huge excitement. There was the novelty of seeing new faces as some of the crew of the Coast Guard ship came ashore to unload the slingloads of groceries, mail, oil barrels, and whatever other supplies had been ordered. Then came the carrying of 100 pound sacks of flour, sugar, and seemingly endless boxes of groceries for three families.
The day was a kaleidoscope of wonderful smells: fresh food, mail from the mainland, new magazines and newspapers, and even new clothes from either the Sears or Eaton’s catalogues. I remember proudly sleeping with a new pair of tennis shoes under my pillow (till they got dirty!). I reveled in their newness and smell. Newspapers such as the Star Weekly, and Britain’s Daily Mirror, were stacked in date order, and read from cover to cover, and the pictures poured over.
One of the things we would eagerly anticipate was receiving the traveling library box from Victoria. A wooden padlocked box. We could hardly wait for my parents to open it up so we could voraciously read every book in the box. There were adult’s books as well as children’s. Once we had read the children’s books we started on the grownup books. Adventures, novels, biographies, we read it all. The smell of new books is one that I never forgot.
When we first lived on the lights, lightkeepers did not get holidays. When I was a young teenager Dad (Ed Hartt) got his first vacation. We were all so excited! By that time we had been two and a half years on Langara Island with no break. When we got the holidays it was two whole months of paid holidays as it was retroactive. Mom had family in Toronto (Ontario) and Brooks, Alberta so we were going to buy a car in Prince Rupert and camp our way to Toronto visiting relatives.
That year and in years to follow, mom and I would bake up a storm, making tins and tins of cookies that we could all enjoy during our long hours on the road. During our vacation mom would take hours of 8 mm video, which we would watch over and over again during the long winter months back on the station, reliving our wonderful holidays till the next one came.
I loved the sound of the fog horn. You could hear it echoing in the fog and it felt like you were in a private alien world as the drifting fog shrouded the masts and trees of the station. The ocean could be heard in the distance, not visible through the grey mist.
When I went into the engine shack I would listen to the roar of the Fairbanks Morse engines with their long black belts whipping round. The belts terrified me as once I had seen one break and shoot the length of the engine room.
It sounded like the huge air tanks were taking a deep breath as they built up pressure for the next blast of the horn. Then there was the constant noise of the generators on top of that and it was impossible to make yourself heard in there.
The howl of the wind in the rigging of the radio mast and around the tower were sounds of a fall or winter gale on the station. I so enjoyed to stand for as long as I could (before I got hypothermia!), watching the crashing rollers smashing against the rocks with spray blowing horizontally and foam piling up around the rocks. Then it was nice to go warm yourself in our cosy home next to the oil stove and have a cup of hot milk!
When we were on the Coast Guard ship taking us to a holiday on the mainland or back home to the light, I loved all the sounds of the ship: the telegraph between the engine room and bridge signaling the captain’s orders to the crew; the sound of the bow anchor’s chain rumbling as she hauled anchor; the low rumble of the ship’s engines; the sound of the waves against the boat; the wind in the rigging. It was always exciting to be leaving on holidays but we were always happy to be heading home again too.
The biggest challenge was on getting on or off of the ship,as you had to climb down a wood and rope ladder to the workboat over the gunnel (side) of the ship. It was especially unnerving when the waves were rolling the ship one way and the workboat was rising and falling 6 to 10 feet or more (2 to 3 meters) in the swell as you were ready for the final leap into the boat. The crew was always there to grab you though and make sure you made it safely.
The sight of the seagulls riding the air currents above the station was often a sign of an approaching storm. Then there were the numerous bald and golden eagles. Once we watched as two eagles locked talons high in the air and tumbled end over end toward the earth only to release and soar high once again.
We would watch the spouts of migrating whales far on the horizon, and the killer whales close on shore hunting the sea lions, which were so plentiful in the early days. There were semi-tame deer who would come and graze on our lawns. I remember the golden sunsets and angry black clouds as yet another Pacific gale bore down on us; the stacked rollers off-shore with spray streaming off them in the gale. I am sure it would have been terrifying to any mariner caught in the maelstorm.